RNA Interference and Protein Phosphorylation in Space Environment Using the Nematode Caenorhabditis elegans (CERISE) - 08.01.18

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ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
RNA Interference and Protein Phosphorylation in Space Environment Using the Nematode Caenorhabditis elegans (CERISE) evaluates the effect of microgravity on RNA interference and studies how the space environment effects protein phosphorylation and signal transduction in the muscle fibers of Caenorhabditis elegans.
Science Results for Everyone
Ageing and space travel are hard on the muscles. This investigation studies how space living affects muscle fibers using nematode worms (Caenorhabditis elegans). The data show changes in muscle, bone, and cell proteins and help scientists understand how human muscle decline. Researchers treat the worms in a special way to block the activity of certain genes to stop degradation of muscle-specific proteins in both microgravity and normal gravity. The treatment may be effective in combating muscle loss and other problems on future long-duration space missions. 

The following content was provided by Atsushi Higashitani, Ph.D., and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Information provided courtesy of the Japan Aerospace and Exploration Agency (JAXA).
Experiment Details


Principal Investigator(s)
Atsushi Higashitani, Ph.D., Tohoku University, Sendai, Japan

Akira Higashibata, Ph.D., Japan Aerospace and Exploration Agency, Tsukuba, Japan
Nathaniel J. Szewczyk, Ph.D., University of Nottingham, MRC/ARUK Centre for Musculoskeletal Ageing Research, National Centre for Sport & Exercise Medicine, Royal Derby Hospital, Derby, United Kingdom

Information Pending

Sponsoring Space Agency
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)

Sponsoring Organization
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

Research Benefits
Information Pending

ISS Expedition Duration
October 2009 - March 2010

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
The predecessor to this investigation, ICE-First, was flown to ISS in 2004.

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • RNA interference is an useful technique to artificially knock down a target gene expression. In this experiment we will examine RNA interference under space environment. We will also evaluate the effect of space environment on protein phosphorylation and signal transduction concerning muscle fibers formation using gene knock-downed C.elegans.

Examine RNA interference under space environment and evaluate effect of space environment for protein phosphorylation and signal transduction concerning muscle fibers formation using gene knock downed C.elegans

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Space Applications
Information Pending

Earth Applications
The experimental data will provide the important information to clarify the muscle atrophy in space and also on the Earth. The results will be the first evidence that RNA interference will be a powerful technique in space experiment to investigate the effect of microgravity on gene expression.

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Operational Requirements and Protocols
Information Pending

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

Muscle atrophy is a serious consequence of spaceflight, and there is growing evidence that muscle cells may, themselves, be sensitive to the loss of gravity. However, little is known about the sequence of molecular events leading to atrophy in response to microgravity. The nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans displays negative muscular and physical effects similar to astronauts when exposed to space conditions. Scientists carried out the CERISE spaceflight experiment growing C. elegans in microgravity and in the 1-G (gravitational acceleration unit) centrifuge onboard the Japanese Experiment Module KIBO of the International Space Station (ISS). Global gene and protein analysis of both groups shows that in worms grown under microgravity, both gene and protein expression levels for muscular thick fibers, cytoskeletal elements, and mitochondrial metabolic enzymes decreased relative to parallel cultures in the centrifuge. Also, most of the enzymes involved with metabolism were decreased in microgravity, perhaps because the metabolic cycle is slower during space flight. Interestingly, it has been proposed that slower metabolism contributes to longer life. Future experiments directly measuring lifespan and metabolism of C. elegans in microgravity could potentially address this hypothesis. In summary, microgravity weakens the cytoskeletal network, including major muscle proteins, and switches muscle cells to an energy-saving mode. In mammals, this translates to specific atrophy of type-1 (endurance) muscle fibers, and indeed type-1 slow oxidative muscle fibers experience the greatest level of atrophy in humans in space. These results confirm previous findings and suggests that they are caused by spaceflight and not operational, technical, or dietary differences between experiments.
Ribonucleic acid (RNA), is a single-strand organic molecule (DNA is double-stranded) in all living cells, and it functions as a messenger carrying instructions from DNA for making proteins. RNAi, or RNA interference, is a cellular process in which RNA molecules may inhibit gene expression. The RNAi process, by halting the reproduction of harmful proteins, cells, or organisms within the host, has emerged as a promising therapeutic for combating diseases on Earth; however the effectiveness of RNAi in space is currently unknown. Nematode worms (C. elegans) were treated with RNAi or a control agent upon arrival on the International Space Station (ISS). After 8 days of space flight, the treatment with RNAi works as effectively in the space environment as on Earth within multiple tissues, suggesting RNAi may provide an effective tool for combating space flight-induced pathologies aboard future long-duration space missions. Furthermore, this is the first demonstration that RNAi can be utilized to block muscle protein degradation, both on Earth and in space.

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Results Publications

    Higashibata A, Hashizume T, Nemoto K, Higashitani N, Etheridge T, Mori C, Harada S, Sugimoto T, Szewczyk NJ, Baba S, Mogami Y, Fukui K, Higashitani A.  Microgravity elicits reproducible alterations in cytoskeletal and metabolic gene and protein expression in space-flown Caenorhabditis elegans. npj Microgravity. 2016 January 21; 2: 15022. DOI: 10.1038/npjmgrav.2015.22.

    Etheridge T, Nemoto K, Hashizume T, Mori C, Sugimoto T, Suzuki H, Fukui K, Yamazaki TQ, Higashibata A, Szewczyk NJ, Higashitani A.  The next phase of life-sciences spaceflight research: Harnessing the power of functional genomics. Communicative and  Integrative Biology. 2011 Dec; 4(6): 668-669. DOI: 10.4161/cib.4.6.16975.

    Etheridge T, Nemoto K, Hashizume T, Mori C, Sugimoto T, Suzuki H, Fukui K, Yamazaki TQ, Higashibata A, Szewczyk NJ, Higashitani A.  The Effectiveness of RNAi in Caenorhabditis Elegans Is Maintained During Spaceflight. PLOS ONE. 2011 June 1; 6(6): e20459. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0020459.

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Ground Based Results Publications

    Harada S, Hashizume T, Nemoto K, Shao Z, Higashitani N, Etheridge T, Szewczyk NJ, Fukui K, Higashibata A, Higashitani A.  Fluid dynamics alter Caenorhabditis elegans body length via TGF-β/DBL-1 neuromuscular signaling. npj Microgravity. 2016 April 7; 2: 16006. DOI: 10.1038/npjmgrav.2016.6.

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ISS Patents

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Related Publications

    Higashitani A, Hashizume T, Sugimoto T, Mori C, Nemoto K, Etheridge T, Higashitani N, Takanami T, Suzuki H, Fukui K, Yamazaki TQ, Ishioka N, Szewczyk NJ, Higashibata A.  C. elegans RNAi space experiment (CERISE) in Japanese Experiment Module KIBO. Biological Sciences in Space. 2009; 23(4): 183-187. DOI: 10.2187/bss.23.183.

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Related Websites

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